Full Review of the Motorola i730


This full review replaces the mini-review I published here in mid-November of 2003. The full review is based on my day-to-day experience with the i730 over a period of one month, rather than a short visit with the phone which remained in its ownerís possession the entire time.

Last Updated: 22-Mar-2004

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

General

The i730 is a clamshell phone like the i95, but it is markedly thinner, and therefore smaller and lighter. Its color screen has fairly good color purity, and very good clarity in bright sunlight and outdoor conditions. The latter is one of the big drawbacks of many color screens, and while I wonít say that the i730ís is a match for a monochrome screen outdoors, it certainly comes as close as Iíve seen on any other color phone.

The real disappointment with the screen is its relatively small size, and it seems distinctly undersized for the phone. It is definitely smaller than the one on i95. Fortunately you can select from any of 3 well-conceived font sizes. For indoor use, where you have the luxury of concentrating on the display, the smallest font is both handsome and very readable. For automotive use, where often all you get is a quick glance at the display, the largest font is very handy. Font sizes are part of the Profiles, so changing Profiles automatically changes the font size too.

The phone also features a small external screen using a standard monochrome LCD display with blue backlighting. The text is a bit small, but no worse than any other clamshell phones with a similar feature. The display normally shows you the date, time, signal quality, and battery condition. When a call arrives the number or name of the calling party is displayed so that you can decide if you want to open the flip or not. You can use external buttons to send the call directly to voicemail, or you can answer in speakerphone mode without opening the flip at all.

Sadly, like most Motorola models, spacing of phone numbers isnít a feature. If you receive a call from 905-555-5123, it shows up on the display as 19055555123, which is very difficult to read. The same applies to phone numbers stored in the phonebook, and it has been a long-time gripe of mine concerning virtually all Motorola models, regardless of underlying cellular technology. It isnít a huge problem, especially if most of your calls come from people already in your phonebook, and if you arenít familiar with the incoming number anyway, spacing it out probably wonít help much.

They numeric section of the keypad is nicely laid out, but I found the keys were a bit too recessed to be really easy to press. The keypad could do with having the key tops raised slightly. I wasnít horribly thrilled with the control keys either, which are clustered around an oval above the numeric keys. It was sometimes difficult to press exactly the key that I wanted. The testing of the i730 happened overlapped the testing of the Motorola V300, and while I might complain about the control keys on this iDEN model, they werenít nearly as bad as the ones on the V300.

Battery life seems pretty decent for a color phone. Even after a full day of solid playing, including lots of use of the GPS receiver (more on that later) the battery indicator had dropped by only 1 bar. The phone uses the same 5705B battery found in other Motorola models (including the P280, V60i, V66, P270, etc).

The phonebook is a bit of mixed bag, in that it supports multiple numbers per entry, as well as an email address and IP address, but it fails to provide a way to store street address or a text note. It also forces you to spread the numbers across a series of type identifiers (such as Home, Work1, Work2, FAX, etc) that you can use only once. The trouble is if you have two home phone numbers or 3 work numbers for example, you have to assign the extras to types that donít really make sense. Other phones (including the V300) allow the reuse of the same type over and over as necessary. Obviously Motorola thinks you live in some kind of ordered universe where all your contacts have only a pre-ordained number of phone types.

When scrolling through the phonebook you see an icon next to each name which you can change by pressing the cursor left or cursor right keys (an idea I generally I liked). Sadly there is no way to mark one of the entries as primary, and the order in which they are displayed is hard-coded into the phone. If a mobile number is included for example, then it is always the first to be display. If you most commonly call a contactís home number you must use the left or right keys to find that icon once you have located his name.

If you are using Direct Connect to speak with a contact there is no need to scroll to the correct icon first. Just find the name in your contacts list and press the push-to-talk button. However, if you wish to alert them first (which is more courteous than just blaring your voice out of their speaker unannounced) you do have to scroll to the correct icon before the Alert option appears on the left softkey.

Finally, the phonebook does allow you to assign a unique ringtone to the entry. This ringtone will override the ringtone selected for phone calls in the current Profile. And speaking of ringtones, there are a number of musical ones as well as a good selection of good old monophonic ringers. The ringing handled by the speakerphone speaker, and it is surprisingly loud. If you pick the right monophonic ringtone you can hear this phone ring over some of the loudest background noises imaginable.

To make working with the phone a little easier, Motorola gives you shortcuts galore. You can customize the function of the 4 direction keys, the OK button in the middle of those keys, and the two softkeys. That alone gives you 7 different shortcuts that are available by pressing a single button. If that isnít enough you can assign shortcuts to each of the numeric keys and access them by pressing the menu key followed by the number key. The only pest with that approach is that you must wait a second or two after pressing the numeric key for the menu item to appear.

The Profiles feature is handled exceptionally well in most current Motorola iDEN phones, and the i730 is no exception. Like many phones on the market today the profile feature takes care of adjusting various volume and ringtone settings so that you can customize those features quickly to suit different environments. However, the i730 goes much further than that, and it also sets all of the following aspects of the phone: font size, backlight duration, wallpaper, color scheme, auto-answer mode, call filtering, and notification filtering. In other words, the profiles are very extensive. You can create and delete profiles at will, meaning you arenít stuck with shoe-horning everything into 5 hard-coded profiles (as is the case on most other phones).

Another really great Profile-related feature is the ability to automatically create a Temporary Profile. In most phones, changing any of the features covered by a Profile automatically changes the current Profile (whether you want it to or not). When Temporary Profiles are activated any change you make to a feature covered by the current Profile creates a new one of the same name, but with an asterisk in front of it. The new profile remains in existence until you change to a different one (thus discarding all of the changes is held), or until you tell the phone to replace the original, or save it as a new profile.

The speakerphone feature is also very good. I fall short of calling it excellent because the speaker volume isnít nearly as loud as the i85, and the speaker itself is subject to sympathetic vibrations at higher volumes. Nonetheless, the speakerphone feature can actually be used in moderately noisy environments with little difficulty. In a quiet indoor environment itís about as good as you can possibly expect from such a feature. Itís certainly a better speakerphone than any Iíve tested on any non-iDEN phone, including the V300.

Many of the more recent phones (especially CDMA models) include a GPS receiver, but in most cases it is intended for use when calling 911 to locate your phone accurately enough to dispatch emergency personnel. Until the i730 came along I hadnít encountered a phone that let you personally use the GPS receiver. Motorola even ships the i730 with a Java applet called My Location that lets you use the GPS receiver in a meaningful way.

The application lets you choose from a number of different screens, each designed to present information in a slightly different manner. The information it can generate from the GPS data is: your current location, speed, heading, and distance travelled. You can store the current location at any time as a Waypoint, or you can hand-enter a Waypoint from a known longitude and latitude. The program then has a feature that lets you find the location of Waypoint. It does that by displaying a compass that indicates your current heading, the direction from you to the Waypoint, and the distance to that Waypoint.

Unlike many of the Motorola phones on the market today the i730 uses true T9 text input, rather than Motorolaís own iTap scheme. Like all good T9 implementations it supports contractions, which means you can spell the word donít by pressing 3-6-6-1-8. T9 is available at virtually every input, but the key sequences for doing different things (such as backspacing, choosing an alternate word, etc) in Java application seems vary.

It also includes a user dictionary, which memorizes the upper and lowercase state of each letter. For example, if you added the word SpongeBob (with capitalization as shown) the phone would automatically capitalize the ďsĒ and the ďbĒ without you needing to tell it in all future references. Sadly it doesnít also record numbers, as does the Ericsson T616.

During my testing of the T9 feature I occasionally experienced very slow response speed. At first I thought it was just the phone acting that way normally, but then I found that it worked quite quickly at other times. I thought the slowness might have been caused by leaving a JAVA applet suspended, but that didnít seem to affect it. However, when I terminated the applet I ended up with horrendously slow T9 response speed. Clearly there is a bug in my version of the firmware (R0A.00.04).

The i730 includes a fairly impressive voice recorder, which can be used to record your own voice, or to record both sides of a phone conversation. When you play back recordings they are channeled through the speaker by default, but you can listen to them through the earpiece by just turning the speaker off in advance (or while you are listening). Oddly the sound quality from the party on the other end is markedly better than the sound quality from the microphone. So much so that your voice sounds better if you first call a voicemail system and leave a message, and then record the playback of that message. Thatís very odd behavior. Nonetheless, the quality of the recordings made of your callers is so good, that you canít tell it apart from the original.

The Datebook is a slight improvement over the same feature found in most other non-iDEN Motorola phones. It has an excellent Month View, as well a fairly good Week View, and the obligatory Day View. Unfortunately there is only one type of event, and it assumes that if you donít have a specific Start Time (such a birthday for example) that you donít want to set an alarm for it. It also gives you a limited number of selections for the alarm time. There are repeat options for the event, but it lacks what I feel is the all-important Every 2 Weeks selection.

To its credit, the event alarms can be set to sound even if the phone is turned off. You can also set an event to automatically change the profile for the duration of that event, which is a lot handier than it may at first sound. Say you know that youíll be in an important meeting between 2PM and 4PM. You would obviously set a Datebook reminder for the meeting, but you could also instruct that reminder to switch your silent Profile for the duration of that meeting. That way you donít have to remember to turn off your ringers going in, or remember to turn them back on again coming out. You can also launch a Java applet automatically if you need to.

The phone supports 2-way text messaging, but at the time of this writing Telus still has not implemented Mobile-Originate SMS, meaning that you can receive messages only. Telus gets around this (sort of) by allowing you to send text messages from the web browser. Anyone who has used this approach knows how painful it is, and it doesnít allow you to directly reply to a text message.

Early versions of the phone (with firmware R0A.00.00) suffered from severely slow scrolling of messages in the inbox. My phone had version R0A.00.04, and in that one the slow scrolling had been fixed. As for the lack of outgoing text messages on the Mike network, Iím sure that will eventually be addressed, and the i730 will be ready for it.

Telus has also not yet implemented the new 6:1 CODEC, which the i730 does support. Because of that I am unable to determine if that new CODEC sounds any better than the old one, as Motorola claims. Iíll update this review in the future to let know once I find out for myself.

One last feature I feel deserves a mention is called Disco Lights. This oddly-named feature works in conjunction with musical ringtones (it doesnít work with standard monophonic ringers). When a musical ringtone is played the circle around the microphone (on the top of the phone) flashes randomly in many different colors (green, red, yellow, purple, blue, orange, etc). It actually looks better than I make it sound.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

What really makes the i730 such a great iDEN phone is its RF and audio capabilities. One of the biggest differences between one iDEN model and another isnít so much its RF sensitivity (since most are very similar to the next), but in the ability of the phone to reproduce good-quality audio under adverse conditions. With the possible exception of the i85, Iíve never tested an iDEN phone with such an incredible ability to squeeze excellent audio out of extremely poor signals.

I was able to get almost perfect audio out of signals with quality values (known as SQE) of as low as 20 to 22. On other iDEN phones the audio would have deteriorated badly by that point. The previous winner was the i85, but Iím sure that even it couldnít match the i730 in this regard. Sadly I didnít have an i85 to compare with directly, and so Iím basing this last remark on my memory of the i85ís performance almost 2 years ago.

Another thing that Iíd noticed in all of the iDEN phones tested previously was a penchant to be somewhat coarse-sounding, which I put down to the limitations of the CODEC. The i730 has the cleanest-sounding audio reproduction of any iDEN phone so far. Unfortunately there are some flaws in the audio, including a fair bit of background hiss at the highest volume setting, and a strange tinkling sound that is ever-present (though I didnít find it annoying for the most part).

Tonal balance has also been a big variable in previous iDEN phones. The i85 was rather tinny and sharp-sounding, while the i90 was a bit muddy-sounding. The i730 is reasonably well-balanced, and although it does exhibit some boominess and a bit of shrillness at times, it is otherwise the nicest-sounding of the iDEN models. It tends to lack low-end, and so male voices sound a bit shallow, but otherwise itís vastly better-sounding phone than most CDMA models Iíve tested.

Earpiece volume is adequate under most circumstances, but it could really do with having a bit more overhead. It would benefit greatly from a volume-boosting feature such as that you find on many Nokia GSM phones and Kyocera CDMA phones. In a quiet environment, or while driving in your car, the volume is certainly loud enough. However, when using the phone in a severely noisy place, such as the sidewalk along side of a busy road, the volume just doesnít quite cut it.

Output from the 2.5 mm headset jack is quite decent though, and if you have a good-quality headset or earbud the quality and volume of the incoming audio is exceptional. I used my i730 with a Samsung earbud Iíve had for just over a year. The volume and clarity of the sound from this earbud and the i730 is shockingly good.

Outgoing sound quality is also quite good, and the phone possesses a very competent noise suppression feature. It is capable of knocking out some of the most aggressive background noises without damaging the userís voice in the least. The big problem with passive noise suppression (such as that implemented in the EVRC CODE on CDMA) is that it cannot accurately remove noise without damaging the desired audio.

The type of background noise made a big difference however. The i730 coped extremely well with typical automotive noise at highway speeds, even in my wifeís incredibly noisy 1977 GMC pickup truck. Street noises, typically those youíd get while walking down the sidewalk of a busy urban road, werenít handled quite so well. In most cases however, the phone handled background noise much better than virtually all of the CDMA 1X phones Iíve thus far tested.

The i730 is far and away the best iDEN model Iíve yet encountered. If you have decided that iDEN (Telus Mike in Canada or Nextel in the US) is the way to go, you really must consider getting this phone. It will give the best performance, and the nicest audio of any other models (based on those Iíve tested). However, if you need a speakerphone (and/or Direct Connect) that works well in extremely loud environments you might be better off with a different model, since the i730 just hasnít got enough speaker volume to hack it.

I bought an i730 because of how impressed Iíd been with it when Iíd first tried it. I initially assumed that I would be returning it before the end of the 30-day trial period however, but I hadnít counted on falling in love with the Mike network overall, or the somewhat quirky i730. As of this writing I have 3 days to make up my mind, but it looks very much like Iíll be keeping the phone and using Mike as my primary network (for the time being).

That should come as a bit of shock to regular readers who thought that nothing could ever drag me away from GSM. I should note however that it is primarily the great stability and consistency of the Mike network, rather than the i730 per se, that has drawn me to this conclusion. Then again, it is also the great audio quality of the i730 that has made me consider Mike a viable network in the first place.

Post-Review Comments (13-Jul-2004)

One thing that I cannot test during a review is the failure rate of a phone. While many models have rather high failure rates, the i730 seems to be a tad more problematic than most. I was lucky and I got a good one right off the bat, but there are many messages in the Nextel forum on HowardForums that complain about issues with the i730. A friend of mine is now on his 4th i730 at the time of this writing.

I still believe that the i730 is worthy of the positive review I give it here, but you need to be aware of the possibility that you'll be returning the phone a number of times to get a good one. Telus will cheerfully replace your phone as many times as it takes, so long as you don't come to them after the initial 30 days. However, depending upon how much trouble it is for you to get to the dealer to have the phone replaced, this may be an issue you'll need to consider.

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